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Navy's Unmanned Drone Flies Into History

ANNAPOLIS, Md.  (WJZ) -- Taking off from a military base in Maryland, an unmanned drone flies into history.

Alex DeMetrick reports for the first time ever an aircraft flew itself without human control and landed on an aircraft carrier.

For pilots, it is considered some of the most challenging flying there is. And taking off from an aircraft carrier is considered the easy part. It's the landing that's tough--hitting a small runway that's rolling with the ocean.

Only this plane doesn't have a pilot. The x-47b's computer does the flying.

For those who follow drone development, technology is racing.

"It's been incredible," said Matt Sassero, Unmanned Aerial Systems Coalition. "Technology just picks up speed every decade, it gets faster and faster like a snowball."

"And here at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, we operate, we test, we design and develop all five groups," said Rear Admiral Mathias Winter, US Navy.

From big drones to small ones.

Last year, WJZ was given access to the Navy air base in Southern Maryland.

Then, not much was known about the x-47b, although early test flights were conducted on Patuxent River's runways.

Like all military drones, it must meet basic criteria.

"They provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance--better known as ISR infrastructure," Winter said.

What the x-47b doesn't require is human control from the ground. It flies on a pre-programmed computer.

Able to land and take-off from a carrier, it is a navy prototype. The next generation is expected to re-fuel in mid-air, giving it greater range to scout far from the fleet and carry weapons.

It also opens the door to other civilian possibilities.

"There will eventually come a day when I think you will see full-sized, jet liner sized unmanned cargo air crafts. You will see anything that can be done with manned can be done with unmanned," Sassero said.

It's just happened here.

The drone flew from the Navy base in Patuxent to the aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush in waters off Virginia.

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